George E. Stuart III, a staff archaeologist at the National Geographic Society, in Guatemala in 1976. He died June 11 at age 79. (Family photo)

George E. Stuart III, a staff archaeologist at the National Geographic Society, a senior editor of its magazine and an authority on Mesoamerican sites, died June 11 at his home in Barnardsville, N.C. He was 79.

The cause was cancer, said his son, Rev. George E. Stuart IV.

As an archaeologist, Dr. Stuart participated in digs and explorations worldwide, but his specialty was ancient Mesoamerica, a region that includes much of what is now Central America. He participated in most of the significant investigation of Mesoamerican archaeological sites, including the Mayan ruins of Coba, Dzibilchaltun and Balankanche Cave.

As an editor at National Geographic, “he brought his discoveries to a global readership,” the Society said in an appreciation published on its Web site.

Dr. Stuart’s books included “The Mysterious Maya” and “Lost Kingdoms of the Maya” (both written with his first wife, Gene), “Ancient Mexico” (co-written with Winfield Swanson) and “Ancient Pioneers: the First Americans.” He also wrote articles in National Geographic magazine.

Mr. Stuart in Guatemala in 1976. (Family photo)

He was known at National Geographic headquarters in Washington as an energetic field worker, comfortable in excavations at remote sites, and also as an adept navigator of the magazine’s buttoned-down bureaucracy. Co-workers became accustomed to the sounds of Pink Floyd and the whiff of margaritas emanating from his office during late afternoons.

During his career, he was tossed out of Egypt as a suspected spy while on a mission in the mid-1960s to obtain official maps of the Nile Valley from the Egyptian map service.

A taxi let him off at the back door of the map-service building, and he simply wandered inside and began taking pictures. Upon discovery, he was assumed by officials to have been a spy — since the building was top secret — and he was ordered out of the country, according to National Geographic.

In 1984, he crash-landed in a Guatemalan jungle while enroute to a Mayan tomb when his helicopter ran out of gas. No one was injured.

Mr. Stuart was born April 2, 1935, in Glen Ridge, N.J., and grew up in Camden, S.C. He was a 1956 graduate of the University of South Carolina and received a doctorate in anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1975.

In 1995, he was named chairman of the National Geographic Society’s Committee on Research and Exploration.

He retired in 1998 after 38 years of service with National Geographic. On retirement, he moved to Barnardsville from Silver Spring, Md.

His first wife, Gene Strickland Stuart, whom he married in 1954, died in 1993. Survivors include his wife of 20 years, Melinda Young Stuart of Barnardsville; four children from his first marriage, Rev. George E. Stuart IV of Bethesda, Roberto G. Stuart of Merida, Mexico, Ann W. Stuart of Barnardsville and David S. Stuart of Austin, Tex.; a stepson, Jason Frye of Oakland, Calif.; a sister; five grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

According to National Geographic, his interest in archeology was piqued when, at 11, he saw a collection of arrowheads in an antique store and the business owner showed him where and how to find more arrowheads on his own.

“I found six arrowheads, and that was it,” National Geographic quoted him as saying.